The Anger Problem

As I noted earlier, there is growing incivility in the United States, and that includes the rapid resurgence of hate groups. Why are so many people so angry?

One reason often postulated is that the American middle class is being “hollowed out” by rapid changes in technology that drastically reduced the number of well-paid semi-skilled jobs, and by the perception that immigrants who take low-paying jobs keep all wages depressed… and these losses fuel anger.

Next are minorities, women, and others affected by the history and legacy of racial and gender discrimination. They’re tired of endlessly waiting for equality, and with ethnic, racial, and gender discrimination continuing, those feeling that discrimination is continuing are also getting angrier and angrier.

Then there are those people who are angry at social change, at the acceptance of more liberal sexual mores, at the emergence of the LGBT culture, at women demanding equal pay.

In short, a lot of people are angry… and the evidence of just how many lies in the election of Donald Trump and the support for Bernie Sanders. It doesn’t seem to matter to these people that the vast majority of Americans have a higher standard of living than their predecessors did or most people elsewhere on Earth. They feel deprived.

All of them have reasons. Some reasons are good; some are understandable; and some are neither.

Those who lost jobs to off-shoring and automation want those jobs back, or something similar. They’re not getting them back, because times have changed. This isn’t new. It happened in England in the early 1800s, when the automation of textiles and weaving was introduced, and comparatively well-paid weavers were replaced by factories. The “Luddites” revolted, and a number of them were executed or exiled to Australia… and nothing changed. In a sense, both the Luddites and those who lost semi-skilled jobs in the last few decades were angry because they felt entitled to those jobs.

For better or worse, however, a capitalistic culture doesn’t recognize entitlement, whether of factory workers or others. And it’s not just happening to factory workers. Jobs for lawyers are drying up, with 55,000 fewer jobs for attorneys this year than 10 years ago, while the number of attorneys has increased by almost 200,000, and a good part of the decreased demand for lawyers results from improved technology in a number of areas.

Technology is continuing to improve, and that means that other semi-skilled and even some skilled jobs will be replaced by technology, most likely creating more displaced and angry people. While technology does create jobs, so far the number of well-paid jobs created doesn’t match those replaced by technology. Unless trends change drastically, and they don’t seem to be, despite predictions of more skilled and paid-paid jobs, more and more the most available jobs will be those requiring personal lower-level skills, while those paying more will be a smaller and smaller fraction of those available.

And that’s not going to help the anger problems… or American politics.

15 thoughts on “The Anger Problem”

  1. Frank says:

    I think your historical reference is analogous to the current situation as economics ebbs and flows to the currents caused by technology.

    I don’t know the “best” political approach, but, from simple supply and demand perspective, it seems if the demand for these jobs is diminishing the supply should as well to keep balance. Short of wars, disease and natural disasters, doesn’t it seem apparent that if we simply control our population and decrease the “supply,” it would balance (or come closer to balancing) the demand?

    I know this is a sensitive touch point because it involves religion and cultures for many, but, the logic seems inescapable.

    Well, maybe our abuse of the environment will “fix” the problem by killing off a significant portion of the population. A very sorry analysis, but it seems to hold water (pardon the reference.)

  2. Tom says:

    It’s too bad that you end on a note of hopelessness. I cannot do better. So how can an Aristotelian be angry correctly? Perhaps to redouble the effort to find alternative livelihood activities which seems to be a call to evolve different culture(s). Perhaps our SF authors can suggest such alternative and workable societies?
    Will be giving us the whole critique involving the concept of “agenda”?

  3. Dan Cody says:

    I’ve read several articles and listened to a few long form interviews from a few professors who study the “pay gap” and they were of the opinion that,excepting a few outliers, the discrepancy was mostly due to life style choices and other factors, not discrimination. I’ve tried to find honest critiques of the professors work and couldn’t find much besides motivated reasoning and outright lies. Obviously I haven’t spent my life looking into it and I’m far from knowledgeable,but the arguments were compelling.

    1. I’m afraid I can’t accept such studies. For one thing, one of the “lifestyles” choice for women happens to include having children. Our society effectively requires men not to take up full parenthood roles [and often penalizes them when they do] and penalizes women for having children in ways both direct and subtle. As both a former government office director with a number of female employees and the father of six daughters, all in the work force, I have to say that any study that makes conclusions that the gender pay gap is minimal is either itself biased or is using “choice” and “lifestyle” disqualifiers in a very “creative” way.

      1. Tim says:

        UK law requires that a woman has a right to maternity leave and her job when she returns. Actually it is not ‘her job’ but ‘ a job’ and even the most senior managers rarely can make up the lost time in securing their position when absent. There may not be a pay differential based on pay, but it is the positioning and opportunities which are lost.

        It is a definite penalty to a woman in business to have a child from what I have seen.

        1. Dan Cody says:

          First of all I’d like to say how crazy it is to me that an author that I’ve loved reading since I was 12 years old, I’m now within spitting distance of 33,is directly answering something I posted on his blog. That is so awesome. I’ve loved your work for all this time and love reading the blog.

          In the most respectful of ways I’d like to push back a little bit on your reply. I’m not entirely convinced either way about the pay gap to be perfectly honest. But when I read your response I couldn’t help but think that you were just rejecting the notion of what I brought up and then made an argument from authority and referred to things from your own life experiences, which I’m not disputing are real, but are hardly empirical evidence.

          Also in case maybe you were thinking I was coming at this in some sort of political left/right thing I wasn’t. I can’t remember exactly all the articles and studies I read but one of the long form interviews I listened to was with Christina Hoff Summers of Harvard,I believe. She’s hardly a right-wing idealogue.

          Anyways I’m sure that’s not too good of a counter-Pointe and you’ll soon destroy me lol. Keep up the great work and please write more Hard SciFi! Those are my favorites.

          1. While my experience is definitely real and is empirical, you certainly don’t have to take my word. Here’s just one of many studies on the matter []

            You’ll also note that the study points out that so-called lifestyle choices make a significant difference. While U.S. law requires paternity leave for both mothers and fathers, it doesn’t require that leave be paid, unlike the 89% of the other 79 countries that require paid parental leave. So only nine percent of all U.S. companies offer paid paternity leave. The percentage offering paid maternity leave is now at 21%, up from 12% in 2012. Also, U.S. companies with less than fifty employees are exempt from the law.

            Now, all this doesn’t mean the studies you cite are “wrong” in their conclusions, as they are stated, but including such factors as deciding to have a child as a “lifestyle” choice that only applies to a woman is incredibly deceptive and discriminatory, because the implication is that it’s all right for a woman to be paid less because she and her husband or partner decided to have a child. In essence, that practice embodies a societal belief that all the cost and foregone opportunities of a couple’s decision to have a child should fall on the mother. Maybe you don’t see it that way, but to me that’s a form of discrimination.

  4. Dan Cody says:

    Thanks for the response sir! No I can’t say I agree with unequal”baby leave” in the slightest. I don’t know what the fair way to resolve that is but I’m sure if companies or congress decided to fix it they could.

    I read that article you posted and the charts they showed do seem damming but it seems to be just showing that when you compare the median earnings between all workers across all sectors that womens pay is less than men’s which is true. But it’s not showing that when a man and a woman do the same job for the same hours the man makes more money than a woman. It looks to me like maybe there is a difference between the actual jobs that men and women are choosing to work in which would explain the difference in pay. I could just be reading that graph wrong, I’ll admit that readily.

    1. Certainly part of the pay gap is because women choose certain jobs and hours. What gets overlooked is WHY they choose those hours and jobs. A large factor is that, if they want children and to continue working, which in these days is almost a necessary for young married couples, they have to choose jobs that will allow them to have children — because many jobs don’t. The other factor is that whenever women become the majority, or even close to it, in an occupation, wages go down comparatively. This has been documented. The third factor is that in business, there is a “glass ceiling.” Pretty much every major business and economic publication has noted that only about 6-9% of the top business positions are held by women, even though qualified and experienced women make up much more than that percentage of the mid-level executives from which CEOs and other top executives are picked.

  5. Dan Cody says:

    Those are very good points sir. Your first point about women taking jobs that allows them to have families has the ring of truth to it,but at the end of the day it seems to me that’s an individual choice or a decision made after discussion with her spouse, and not so much because of discrimination. Then there’s the flip side of that, say men become the primary caregivers, aren’t we then right back where we started on with the issue reversed? I’m sure examples could be found of spouses being uncaring and demanding a woman stay home or work less. But I doubt that’s the overarching reason,especially these days.

    Your second and third points I really don’t have answers to at all. Why wages would go down once an industry is female dominated seems on the surface discriminatory, and could very well be but I suspect there are other reasons that it’ll take decades of academic work to suss out.

    The lack of female executives also seems like there could be hidden discrimination as well, but again, who knows? I’m inclined to think there’s something else going on there as well. These companies know how bad this makes them look, and I’m sure would love to get people off of their collective backs about it if for nothing more than better PR. I know in the past men really did try to keep women out of power, but social mores and the laws have changed so much since then that it makes me wonder if it’s less overt or covert discrimination and the answers are found somewhere else. But that’s all conjecture from someone with very little education and zero corporate experience lol.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to go back and forth like this, it’s been really great, honestly, every time you’ve come back with great thoughts that have resulted in serious mental gymnastics which I get very little of in my life.

  6. Lars ÅkeFrykholm says:

    Once upon a time dollar replaced gold as standard and US prospered. Today euro, yen, and the chinese yuan are fast replacing the dollar.
    By the way, Assassin’s price is good, very good.

  7. Dan Cody says:

    If I’m catching the drift of your post, and I may very well not be, I’d say that’s the kind of attitude that led to generations of oppression. I hope I’m wrong.

    1. We’ve already had generations of oppression. Human history is, in many ways, a struggle against oppression and toward a society of equal rights regardless of race, color, creed, or gender. My concern is that too many people feel that, by giving truly equal rights to all people, society is taking things away from them, and this creates both a backlash against those who have fewer rights and rising anger on the part of those who see the “enfranchised” resisting the granting of the same rights and opportunities to others, largely on the rather thin argument of “I was here first.”

      1. Dan Cody says:

        I agree whole heartedly with that, but I’d be apprised if that’s what Lars was getting at.

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